Sunday, October 07, 2007


'Bye kids. We're leaving for the coast.
Now, I want you kids to play nice.
Whatever you do, don't break into the cooler where the kegs are stored.
Use the keys I left by the kitchen door.
If you must have a party, try to keep it down, (to a dull roar, heh heh)
No more than three hundred of your most intimate friends.
By the way the envelope for the Sheriff is in the safe with the money for Vito,
The Sheriff will be by Tuesday.
Vito's money is in the yellow box on the right.
Whatever else, don't mess with Vito's money.
Whatever else, don't mess with Vito's money.
I know I said that twice, but it is an important point.
Makes a big difference as to whether we come back or not.
Vito himself won't show up, but somebody will come 2:00 AM Friday.
The password is "Angelo sends his regards"
Whatever else, don't mess with Vito's money.

If we're not back by the 15th, well...let's not worry about that, 'K?
If Vito doesn't get his money, Yo no habla englese, if you know what I mean.
I will be practicing my foreign language skills for a while, a long while.

If you leave the house, don't forget to set security.
Let the dogs run regularly.
Don't forget to feed them, or they will take matters into their own paws and you can think of yourself as pitbull chow. Just kidding.
Although both Adolf and Sid seem to have gotten the knack of unlatching the cougar cage, so watch out for that.

I'm taking the kite I got for Christmas, let's hope the weather pans out this time.

Anyway have fun while we're gone, and don't forget the Sheriff
And don't mess with Vito's money.

Talk amongst yourselves.


Blogger butch said...

Yes, yes, that odd wind you're feeling is not just a weather front blowing in off the Pacific Ocean, it is also the commotion caused by the throbbing throngs of your reader, your "kids" as you call them, waving frantically at the Volvo wagon as it disappears south and then west, through Forks, past the lodge at Klalock, and past the lodge at Lake Quinault, and onto a cabin on said lake; was that the north side or the south side, sir? Cookies, reading, and sleeping are the orders of the day as we understand it.

One bone we have to pick with you though is your Webmaster or Blogmeister "approval" measures. Last summer as you toddled off with the lovely Meredith, you still allowed comments to show up extant and readable. So Anonomann and I, and others, really got into a lengthy dialogue --which was fun and fact-filled, even educational. Now all we have to frolic with is the great void, the chasm of nothingness, that cyber haze the comments will all go to until your return. So it will be interesting to find 0ut who said what and why; not much interplay or actual dialogue amongst the kiddies though. Damned shame actually.

Probably Keth will be in and out, so the home fires will be kept burning. You have not given us any updates as the the kitchen cabinets. Are they completed and back on the walls in the kitchen where ultimately they belong?

I checked the keys, Bub, and they do not fit the front door. They look like they might fit the several derilect automobiles that line up in your driveway, spilling out into your back yard, or perhaps they are for your old business, PALMER AUTOMOTIVE which has morphed into a damned Coffee and Sandwich Shop. Or perhaps they fit some of the old rental doors that you manage through your Slum Landlord program, or is Land Baron program?
Of course none of us have 300 friends. I don't even have that many acquantences. Or maybe I do. If I go back to high school, and the many work friends, and college friends, and theatre friends and actor friends, and then the people who I hung with during my first marriage, or the wonderful folks that my second (or third depending on how your count) wife, Melva, has introduced me to, and all the folks at my office at the VA @ American Lake. No, hell, that is only 175 souls on a good day.

I bumped into some fairly fierce felines going in and out of a cat door on your front porch, but I never came into contact with the fanged pooches. What are they Dobermans? Awful quiet those dogs. Maybe Keth has them muzzled, and or they just wait until you walk into the premises before they go for your throat. Those kind of killer dogs always go for the jugler, or so they say, or I read somewhere.

Christ, I have been busy doing nothing at my crib, so here it is already Tuesday. And we know that the Sheriff shows up on Tuesday. Now let's see, there are three boxes. Green, red, and yellow, and there is the yellow box on the right, and it contains Vito's money, which none of us will mess with, having been thrice warned by Dougie as to that. There is a small problem though. We cannot find the envelope designated for the Sheriff. What color was it, and how big? It seems strange to see the safe door wide open like that, but hell there is the guard cats, and then intruders will have to deal with Spike and Ike who at least look lean and hungry and damned vicious. By the way, since I am essentially a non-driker these days, your kegs are super safe. But if Anonomann shows up, I understand he can drink like a fish. Always seemed odd to me, that saying, since fish do not drink.

When Vito's representative shows up on 2am Friday, Keth will be asleep. I did rent a parrot called Polly, and trained it/her to say "Angelo sends his regards", and then point its left leg toward the yellow box within the open safe. Hope the messenger has more luck with the keys than I did.
Monday the 15th is another Lab Day for yours truly, checking blood for levels of warfarin and allopurinol, for those pesky thrombostic and gout symptoms that once plagued me not too long ago.

In case Vito does not get his money, God forbid, I put a small note on the upper right section of the front door. It states, "Dearest Vito, or his representatives. In the odd case that somehow some asshole absconded with your dough, there is an orange box on top of the refridgerator, and in it you will find a clear title for all these cars in my driveway, the VW van, the Alpha Romeo sports car, the Fiat, and the amphibian, aka GottWeiss. Please feel free to haul them all away, and may they serve you well; which many of them refuse to do for me presently. You cannot have the Volvo since I am driving it as you read this, and since it has over 300,000 miles on it, you wouldn't find it being worth much to Vito, or yourselves.
Warmly and Respectfully:
Douglas Lane Savant Palmer. "

I hope you don't mind. It was the only way I could think of to get you (possibly) off the hook (quite a pun)with Don Vito, or just Vito.
When it comes to a foreign language, how about French, which you took in high school,or Latin, which you took in life?

So this is the first foray into "talking amongst ourselves" even that in itself is a misnomer, and actually cannot be done; I don't think. Unless this message just magically appears, and you have let down the approval barriers, which I doubt, but certainly do not resent.

Enjoy your vacation, or is it Meredith's vacation? Vacations are very good for mental health, although a bit expensive. Melva and I have weekend getaways every month, usually to Pac Beach, and we love them each and every one.


8:31 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Well, it is Wednesday already, and the Palmer party must be wrapping up their time at the cabin on Lake Quinault. Maybe next year or the next time they are off on a blissful sojourn, Savant might adjust the blog so that we could see each other's comments, and could know what, or what not to respond to. At the moment, I feel like Mark Twain tossing a sock full of crap at the moon; a fine gesture but without much significance or relevance.

Last night some of our TFC members got together to watch A THOUSAND CLOWNS (1965), done as a spin off of the popularity of the Broadway play written by Herb Gardner. The whole Broadway gang, or most of it, made the movie; kind of like Mel Brooks did with his remake of his THE PRODUCERS using his Broadway cast. Jason Robards was looking very young, and wasn't that well known. It was 1965 after all. I was struggling to stay in college during Viet Nam War, and that was a losing battle. I ended up in the Navy by 1966; quite a different world in some ways, and in others not. Iraq, and our presence there, already exceeding the time it took us to beat both the Germans and the Japanese in WWII, and heading into a quagmire and span of time that will rival Viet Nam --it does make one pause and reflect, and get angry. The new Paul Haggis film, IN THE VALLEY OF THE ELAH (2007), starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon is a stirring drama, a great anti-war film, and some of the best work the incredible Tommy Lee Jones has ever done. Awards should follow like sharks to the smell of blood.

We are experiencing some political fall out, and emotional strife within the Tacoma Film Club. We have been a group for more than four years; pretty impressive on that scale. We discuss films both as art and entertainment, all contributing to each other's esthetic education, raising each other's ire, passion, and intellect.

Problem for me when we have any mid-week event is that I get home so late. Most evenings I retire at 8pm, rising at 3am the next morn, so that I can get to the office and get on top of my reports, do some writing, some research, and follow my blog responses and make sure my presence is constant and consistent--like the man who is constantly stroking his own tie and jacket to make sure that he is still there. So this fine morning I am dragging ass, and I have the mental capacity of a sponge.

A technician did come in last week, after 6 months, and repaired my computer so that it can play CD's again, and I am listening to Yo-Yo Ma playing Ennio Morricone, and enjoying it immensily. Come to think of it now I will have somewhere to listen to the Lane Savant/Doug Palmer compositions. That will be way cool personified. I have a nice collection of film score CD's here at work that I used to listen to while doing my reports and research in the mornings; stuff like the scores of LORD OF THE RINGS, BRAVEHEART, and others, Jerry Goldsmith when I can get it, Bernard Herrman, Howard Shore, and like that.

God, I wish that I did not feel that I was shouting down a well,or pissing off a bridge into the darkness, but I suppose I will continue to make comments on my own feelings and experiences just because I need to, and I can. This blog site is an important event for me several times a week,when Doug blesses us with his comments, and we banter amongst ourselves.

Maybe while on Vacation, the Palmers can watch all those Chevy Chase films where he played Clark Griswold, like VACATION (1983), the National Lampoon's EUROPEAN VACACTION (1985), and CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989),and then VEGAS VACATION (1997). WallyWorld here we come!

I wonder what books Doug took with him? Something light? Something heavy and technical? Maybe the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Maybe some of my poetry. Hey, how about that, here is one of them:


Thunderous eruption,
rain squalling,
shutter slamming
with raunchy rhythms
crashing through everyone,
like ice-green lagoon-blue waves washing
over loose sand.

Shaggy minstrels maneuvering melodies,
drawing quivering throngs together
at Sky River;
current without water,
perched on a Zeus stage,
far from the death ooze of the Ganges,
thrusting electric sobs
out over the steaming multitudes.
Talking, praying, singing, crying,
about love,
and loving
in the black dust
that settled on a
many thousand-lipped smile.

Hosted by a stoned Buddha,
begging for a blowjob,
while braying,
"There is misery in this world,
and there is happiness !
Which do you choose ?
Look around you.
There can be
just look around you."
And we did,
and there was.

was that jagged laurel of pigs
usually prevalent at such gatherings.
even was the threat of sober steel,
that vicious arm-in-arm lockstepped
helmeted Hessian terror.
Present instead
was a great iron train
on towering tracks,
that slowed and waved
and slipped away.

Yes, there were people spaced out,
and drugs were vended
like peanuts,
and there are always those
who must run naked through the crowd;
even though they were
mostly ignored,
just a silly naked ass
dancing, twitching, or holding a beer.
But for most of us,
the loftiest rapture came
from just being
an intimate cell in that sublime creature
that we were;
tourist, freak, artist,
stoned and enlightened
as one,
merely a infinitesimal cell
of the voltaic din;
blended, weaved, woven,
as one person
with a hundred thousand limbs,
with the strength of millions,
of rebellion,
of song,
of youth.

When the light on the earth passed
and sank into the horizon armpit
like poppywine
smearing the sky,
the giant screen behind the musicians
exploded with color,
extending the sunset long into the night,
as people
hugged, swayed, dreamed, kissed,
and kept warm.

Glenn Buttkus 1969

Now, wasn't that fun, a real treat? Yeah, that's what I thought. Well, Bub, you might keep that kind of language to yourself!


6:09 AM  
Blogger butch said...

For God's sake, wide open, that's what it is young bloggers and blogettes. The news from Iraq is bleak, as every morning. I want people to read a book of poetry, called HERE, BULLET by Brian Turner. It really sums things up. I put some of his poems on the site last year.

Here, Bullet
Brian Turner
2005 Beatrice Hawley Award
2006 Maine Literary Award in Poetry
2006 Northern California Book Award in Poetry
2006 Sheila Margaret Motten Award from the New England Poetry Club
2006 PEN Center USA "Best in the West" Literary Award in Poetry
2006 Lannan Literary Fellowship
2007 Poets' Prize
A New York Times "Editor's Choice" Selection

A harrowing, beautiful first-person account of the Iraq War by a soldier-poet. Adding his voice to the current debate about the US occupation of Iraq, in poems written in the tradition of such poets as Wilfred Owen, Yusef Komunyakaa (Dien Cai Dau), Bruce Weigl (Song of Napalm) and AJB’s own Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire), Iraq war veteran Brian Turner writes powerfully affecting poetry of witness, exceptional for its beauty, honesty and skill. Based upon Turner’s year-long tour in Iraq as an infantry team leader, the poems offer gracefully-rendered, unflinching description but, remarkably, leave the reader to draw conclusions or moral lessons. Here, Bullet is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war, regardless of political affiliation.

“The day of the first moonwalk, my father’s college literature professor told his class, ‘Someday they’ll send a poet, and we’ll find out what it’s really like.’ Turner has sent back a dispatch from a place arguably more incomprehensible than the moon—the war in Iraq—and deserves our thanks…”
—The New York Times Book Review

"Here, Bullet is a book of poems about the war in Iraq, written by a veteran whose eye for the telling detail is as strategic as it is poetic."
—The Globe and Mail

"Several hundred books have now been published on the Iraq War...but none have felt necessary until now. There's something in the lumbering of prose that cannot capture what poetry, done right, can make immanent with its insistent beat—as the power of the cadences soldiers sing cannot truly be understood apart from the accompanying beat of boots beneath them. With Brian Turner's Here, Bullet, we have the first war poetry since Yusef Komunyaaka's Dien Cai Dau that matters."
—Rain Taxi

"As a war poet, [Brian Turner] sidesteps the classic distinction between romance and irony, opting instead for the surreal."
—The New Yorker

"Turner attempts to capture the extreme experience of war by depicting the feelings it generates: the sense of loss, hatred, humiliation, love, uncertainty, and dreamy longing for a normal life..."
—Library Journal

"The poems on the pages of Here, Bullet, with their immediacy of impact, their universality of theme, their blend of cultural and historical insight, and their many tiered reverberations of the aftermath of gut wrenching violence, make for a powerful reading experience….The relationship Turner establishes with the reader is not dialogue but a tidal insistence on reflection, that if there is meaning in loss, there must be meaning in what precedes loss, in what is related to loss. There is no harm in such reflection, argues Here, Bullet, but, rather harm stems from the lack of it."
—The Franklin Journal

"Here, Bullet is a poignant and brutally lucid evocation of war and the terror of human contingency..."
—Military Review

"Turner's work adds vividly to the sad record [of war literature]. I recommend a slow and careful reading. Be prepared for some pain."
—Wolf Moon Press Journal

"These poems are dispatches from a war we largely know through statistics and stage-managed press conferences and the words of correspondents holed up in hotels. And yet by invading this country, by sending our army to fight there, we have linked ourselves to its sand, its fire, its oil, its pride. 'This land of confluence and heat,' Turner writes, will become the nation of soldiers who die there, 'and even if they live, it will be theirs as well—the land that tested their souls and changed them.'"
—Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages

"[Brian Turner's] work is straightforward and direct. It highlights the violence and death of the war in a manner little seen elsewhere."
—Publishers Weekly

"Brian Turner’s poems are indispensable not only for their craft and their penetrating lyric power, but for the circumstances under which they were written. No book of poetry since Yusef Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dau brings us as close to the realities of combat as this, but the realities are uniquely Iraq’s. Reader, take note: 21st century poetry, as such, may well begin here."
—T. R. Hummer

“Brian Turner writes as only a soldier can, of terror and compassion, hurt and horror, sympathy and desire. He takes us into the truth and trauma of the Iraq war in language that is precise, delicate and beautiful, even as it tells of a suicide bomber, a skull shattered by a bullet, a blade in a bloodgroove.”
—Andrew Himes, editor of Voices in Wartime Anthology

"Soldiers have long been the custodians of the real war inside the war of the politicians. Unfortunately, most of the voices get lost when they come home. Not so with Iraq war veteran Brian Turner, with his uncommon eloquence, and his sensitivity to the land in which the war is being fought. His poems reveal his own internal landscape, and they celebrate the other—even as they deplore the violence."
—Doug Anderson

about the author
Brian Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon and lived abroad in South Korea for a year before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq beginning November 2003, with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. His poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review and other journals, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. He received a 2007 NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem)

Thalia Fields lies under a grey ceiling of clouds,
just under the turbulence, with anesthetics
dripping from an IV into her arm,
and the flight surgeon says The shrapnel
cauterized as it traveled through her
here, breaking this rib as it entered,
burning a hole through the left lung
to finish in her back, and all of this
she doesn’t hear, except perhaps as music—
that faraway music of people’s voices
when they speak gently and with care,
a comfort to her on a stretcher
in a flying hospital en route to Landstuhl,
just under the rain at midnight, and Thalia
drifts in and out of consciousness
as a nurse dabs her lips with a moist towel,
her palm on Thalia’s forehead, her vitals
slipping some, as burned flesh gives way
to the heat of the blood, the tunnels within
opening to fill her, just enough blood
to cough up and drown in; Thalia
sees the shadows of people working
to save her, but she cannot feel their hands,
cannot hear them any longer,
and when she closes her eyes
the most beautiful colors rise in darkness,
tangerine washing into Russian blue,
with the droning engine humming on
in a dragonfly’s wings, island palms
painting the sky an impossible hue
with their thick brushes dripping green…
a way of dealing with the fact
that Thalia Fields is gone, long gone,
about as far from Mississippi
as she can get, ten thousand feet above Iraq
with a blanket draped over her body
and an exhausted surgeon in tears,
his bloodied hands on her chest, his head
sunk down, the nurse guiding him
to a nearby seat and holding him as he cries,
though no one hears it, because nothing can be heard
where pilots fly in blackout, the plane
like a shadow guiding the rain, here
in the droning engines of midnight.

It Should Break Your Heart to Kill
By Jennifer Liss, February 13, 2006

Comment Now Email Print
Brian Turner, who was an infantry team leader in Iraq, recently reflected on the war-time experiences in his new book of poems.

To psych themselves up, Brian Turner explained, young U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq would repeat this line: "I'm going to go over there and shoot someone in the face." It was one way of building courage.

"The people over there -- insurgents, freedom fighters, enemies, whatever you want to call them -- were not only ready to kill us, but they knew how. And they were capable. For us, it was just war-gaming," Turner said.

But the line gnawed at Turner, who was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq. So he wrote his fellow soldiers a poem, "Sadiq," which means friend in Arabic.

It ends: no matter/ what god shines down on you, no matter/ what crackling pain and anger/ you carry in your fists, my friend,/ it should break your heart to kill.

"By the end of the tour, nobody in the unit said the phrase anymore," he said. "They just wanted to go home."

Turner recently published "Here, Bullet," one of the few collections of published poems written by soldiers who served in Iraq. As both a trained solider and a trained poet, a war participant and a conscious observer, his voice and experience contribute a unique perspective.

And the book is garnering due national attention. "I can't say that I don't enjoy it," said the 38-year-old from Fresno, Calif., who served with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "But if it were a different book on a different subject, I might enjoy it more. All this comes from a war zone."

And a place of pain. "Eulogy," which Turner calls the book's emotional centerpiece, memorializes a friend who committed suicide while on duty in Iraq. It is difficult for Turner to consider that reflections such as "Eulogy" have thrust him into a literary spotlight.

But with his humble background and articulate soft-spokeness, Turner -- hobby punk musician turned poet-soldier -- doesn't come across as someone scrambling to break into the literati. When he transitioned out of the army last year, Turner taught online English classes and worked in construction, at one point holding four jobs. Now he teaches at Fresno City College, picks up electrician gigs on the side and recently moved in with his girlfriend. And he's back together with the garage band of his younger years, under a new name: the Burnouts.

In his twenties, Turner was a machinist writing lyrics (for the original Burnouts) and messing around with the three chords he knew. With rock star ambitions, he enrolled at California State University, Fresno, but soon settled for poetry. In 1992 he took a class with Fresno's poet darling, Philip Levine. Ignorant about the poetry scene, Turner was surprised to find the first class filled, standing room only. When Levine walked into the classroom and put down a mug, Turner recalled a woman shoving the celebrity token into her purse. Turner thought, 'Who is this guy?'

"I knew he was working class, a straight shooter kind of guy," he said. "I told him I don't care about grades or any of that bullshit, but I want to study with you."

And he did, graduated and took the extra $25 he had at the end of a month and put it toward the application fee for a poetry program at the University of Oregon. He got in. But with a hard-earned M.F.A. in hand, Turner turned away from academia or the modern bohemian living of other aspiring poets. He enlisted in the U.S. military. It was in the family, it would help pay off bills and it was adventure.

A military counselor told Turner he could sign up for anything, from a desk job to the front lines. The meeting was being held in a drab office, and the whole time Turner was thinking, 'I don't want anything boring like this.' Turner recalled the counselor pointing to a poster of a group of guys rowing down a river at dawn and asking, "Do you want something like that?"

"Yeah," Turner said. "Like that."

A little over five years later, Turner found himself in Iraq, participating in war, observing war and writing about war.

"While things were happening, it was easy to get caught up in the exhilaration of the moment," he said.

But then there was a continuous feeling of loss -- and a feeling of disconnectedness.

"When you watch war movies, they have a narrative," he said. "There's a mission, something to be saved. Something gets blown up. But over there nothing seemed connected. I came back with a manuscript of poems, having no idea which one came before the other."

More than anger or bitterness, it is the feelings of disconnectedness -- loss, surrealism, confusion, emptiness -- that set the tone in "Here, Bullet." And it seems important to Turner that the poems tell the straight story of his time in Iraq, "I wanted to witness as clearly as possible and not romanticize. Concentrating on the body helped."

The damage to the human body wracked by war is a reoccurring theme in Turner's collection -- from "AB Negative (The Surgeon's Poem)," where a surgeon in tears loses the fight to save the life of a young woman from Mississippi -- to "2,000 lbs," the collection's lengthiest poem that describes the immediate aftermath of a car bomb in Ashur Square, Mosul.

Drawing on the images of the traffic circle, the predominate road feature in Iraq, and the circular radius of a bomb, "2,000 lbs" cinematically pans a scene of human destruction. A sergeant's eardrums have ruptured, a civil affairs officer stares at the space where his hands once were and a grandmother cradles her grandchild thinking, 'It's impossible. This isn't the way we die.'

Even with "Here, Bullet" bound and on bookstore shelves, Turner has only begun to process his time in Iraq.

"I think it is going to take me a few years to take in all that happened, think it through and figure it out. It sobered me up, but at the same time, it helped me further my sense of loving life."

And when asked the question posed in "Night in Blue" at the end of the collection -- did Iraq provide him an understanding of hardship and loss -- Turner was unsure and careful of where he placed himself on a spectrum of suffering.

"I was a witness," he said, sounding more like a poet than a participant.

"I never had to deal with pain like the woman who had to bury a child, never had a spouse taken away in the middle of the night, never lost hands or legs. I didn't come back to America damaged. I didn't feel as damaged as other people in Iraq."

"Eulogy" from "Here, Bullet."

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

And then there was that young disillusioned poet Glenn Buttkus, writing in the 60's during something called the police action in Viet Nam.


You snake along
on your belly in the black soil
with fire ants chewing
the fungus on your feet,
the jungle flora jingling near your nose
mirage mammeries,
tipped with swollen pink nipples,
filling your mouth
with fern sweetness.

You ford the warm stream hoping
it won't be squirming
with savage fish,
or lousy with leeches.
You try to disregard the green-eyed
beasts of the night,
whose every movement
strokes the hard fear-lump
in your colon,
and dampens the steel wool
in your throat.

Your eyes are clear,
but they see nothing
in the tropical ink.
Your nostrils are flaring
full of the acrid midnight mist
hanging in the humid canopy
that hides the moon and the stars,
leaving every tree pregnant
with the possibility
of snipers.

This is recon,
and you know that you cannot afford
to fire your weapon.
No sweat,
just remember your indoctrinations;
hate the Asian today
and be his friend tomorrow
when he thinks as you do,
or says he does.
But on this day
kill him
before he kills you,
as he has been ordered to do.

a man dies easily.
He is one of the easiest animals there is to kill.
He has no claws,
and his teeth are dull;
just a flash of steel
or a well-placed fist or thumb,
and he is dead meat.

is in front of you,
also on patrol,
crouched in a steaming bush
with his back to you,
and the moonlight barely illuminating
his NVA uniform;
that fucking stupid pith helmet,
those deep red insignias,
and that awesome AK47.

You gently set your M16 aside,
and your assault knife
slides lethal
out of its khaki scabbord.

When you are close enough to smell his armpits
the gook hears you;
but his lethargic response will cost him

You leap upon the smaller man
and he manages to say
" Dinky-dau,"
before your hand covers his mouth.

You are a heartbeat slower
than you should have been,
and your advesary will not submit
without a struggle.
So you roll in the elephant grass
arms and legs wrapped around each other
like lovers;
his muffled cries becoming frenzied
as your naked blade
rips his flesh
and tears his bones.

Then both of you are on your knees,
facing each other,
and for the briefest of moments
you are able to look deep
into the painful bulging eyes
of the country
you have come to conquor.

Sweet death finally comes
for your yellow opponent;
and his desperate grip relaxes
on the thick muscles of your forearms,
and his bare head rests
against your swelling chest
like a tired child.
You let go of him,
and his limp body collapses
beneath you,
lying like something broken.

He is dead,
and so is a tiny part of you
for killing him.
Your strong heart pounds as you blow
spit-bubbles in the blood
that covers your hot sweaty face.
You pick up a scrap of paper
that must of been in his dead fist.

It was the lyrics to
" California Dreamin'"
in English.
Stuffing the paper into your pocket
you crawl off like a snake.

It's all fucking crazy.

Glenn Buttkus 1968

Then there is Bruce Weigl:


After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,
we stood in the doorway watching horses
walk off lazily across the pasture's hill.
We stared through the black screen,
our vision altered by distance
so I thought I saw a mist
kicked up around their hooves when they faded
like cut-out horses
away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more
scarlet; beyond the pasture
trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
crosscrossed the sky like barbed wire
but you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
they swung finally away from me . . .

But still the branches are wire
and thunder is the pounding mortar,
still I close my eyes and see the girl
running from her village, napalm
stuck to her dress like jelly,
her hands reaching for the no one
who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
so I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings
beat inside her until she rises
above the stinking jungle and her pain
eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
and the girl runs only as far
as the napalm allows
until her burning tendons and crackling
muscles draw her up
into that final position
burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
can change that, she is burned behind my eyes
and not your good love and not the rain-swept air
and not the jungle-green
pasture unfolding before us can deny it.

Copyright 1988 by Bruce Weigl
Reproduced with kind permission


There's a bar girl on Trung Hung Do who has half a ten-piaster
note I tore in my drunken relief to be leaving the country. She has
half and I have half, if I can find it. If I lost it, it wasn't on purpose,
it's all I have to remember her. She has a wet sheet, a PX fan,
PX radio, and half a ten-piaster note, as if she cared to remember
me. She thought it was stupid to tear money and when I handed
it to her she turned to another soldier, new in country, who needed
a girl. I hope I burn in hell.

Copyright 1988 by Bruce Weigl
Reproduced with kind permission

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, MC (March 18, 1893 – November 4, 1918) was a British poet and soldier, regarded by many as the leading poet of the First World War. His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend Siegfried Sassoon and sat in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time, and to the confidently patriotic verse written earlier by war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Some of his best-known works—most of which were published posthumously—include Dulce Et Decorum Est, Anthem for Doomed Youth, Futility, and Strange Meeting. His preface intended for a book of poems to be published in 1919 contains numerous well-known phrases, especially 'War, and the pity of War', and 'the Poetry is in the pity'.

He is perhaps just as well-known for having been killed in action at the Sambre-Oise Canal just a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town's church bells declared peace.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares2 we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest3 began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots4
Of tired, outstripped5 Five-Nines6 that dropped behind.

Gas!7 Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets8 just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime9 . . .
Dim, through the misty panes10 and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,11 choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud12
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest13
To children ardent14 for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.15

8 October 1917 - March, 1918

1 DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country

Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- ) is an eminent American poet who currently teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Komunyakaa is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award (for Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems), the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (also for Neon Vernacular), and the 2001 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. His subject matter ranges from the African-American experience through rural Southern life before civil rights and his experience as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

He was born and grew up in the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana before and during the Civil Rights era. He served a tour of Army duty during the Vietnam War, when he acted as a journalist for the military paper, covering major actions, interviewing fellow soldiers and publishing articles on Vietnamese history and literature. Upon his return to the states he turned to poetry, eventually becoming one of the most popular and important American writers of his generation. He was married to the Australian novelist Mandy Sayer for ten years, and was engaged in a long-term relationship with the poet Reetika Vazirani, who killed herself and their child Jehan in 2003.

Komunyakaa obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in 1975, an M.A. in creative writing from Colorado State University in 1978, and an M.F.A. in creating writing from the University of California, Irvine in 1980. After teaching at the University of New Orleans, Komunyakaa was a professor at Indiana University for over ten years, and, in the fall of 1997, he began teaching at Princeton University.

Komunyakaa first gained wide recognition for the collection "Copacetic" in 1984, which fused jazz rhythms and syncopation with super-hip colloquialism and the unique, arresting poetic imagery which has since become his trademark. It also outlined an abiding desire in his work to articulate cultural truths that remain unspoken in daily discourse, in the hope that they will bring a sort of redemption:

"How can love heal/ the mouth shut this way.../ Say something that resuscitates/ us, behind the masks"

His success continued with "I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head", but his true breakthrough moment came with the publication of "Dien Cai Dau" -- pronounced "dinky dow", which means "crazy" in Vietnamese -- which focused on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. Included was the poem "Facing It" which records his experience visiting the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington D.C. and has become perhaps Komunyakaa's signature poem:

"He's lost his right arm/ inside the stone. In the black mirror/ a woman's trying to erase names:/ No, she's brushing a boy's hair."

In 2004, Komunyakaa began a collaboration with dramaturg and theater producer Chad Gracia on a dramatic adaptation of The Epic of Gilgamesh. The play will be published in October 2006 by Wesleyan University Press.

In 2007, Komunyakaa was awarded the Robert Creeley Poetry Award and visited the Parker Damon building to read some of his poetry to a receiving Massachusett's community.

Believing in Iron
by Yusef Komunyakaa

The hills my brothers & I created
Never balanced, & it took years
To discover how the world worked.
We could look at a tree of blackbirds
& tell you how many were there,
But with the scrap dealer
Our math was always off.
Weeks of lifting & grunting
Never added up to much,
But we couldn't stop
Believing in iron.
Abandoned trucks & cars
Were held to the ground
By thick, nostalgic fingers of vines
Strong as a dozen sharecroppers.
We'd return with our wheelbarrow
Groaning under a new load,
Yet tiger lilies lived better
In their languid, August domain.
Among paper & Coke bottles
Foundry smoke erased sunsets,
& we couldn't believe iron
Left men bent so close to the earth
As if the ore under their breath
Weighed down the gray sky.
Sometimes I dreamt how our hills
Washed into a sea of metal,
How it all became an anchor
For a warship or bomber
Out over trees with blooms
Too red to look at.

From Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 1992 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

Facing It
by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

Poems about War

War has long figured as a theme in poetry--after all, some of the world's oldest surviving poems are about great armies and heroic battles. But while Homer may have idealized his combatants and revered their triumphant, incessant fighting, the treatment of war in poetry has grown increasingly more complex since then.

The numerous conflicts of the twentieth century produced poets who sometimes chose to concentrate their writing on the horrifying effects of war on civilians. In Pablo Neruda’s famous poem about the Spanish Civil War, "I Explain a Few Things," he discards metaphor entirely to say: "in the streets the blood of the children / ran simply, like the blood of children." At the end of the poem he implores the reader to look at the devastating results of war:

Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!

Likewise, in "The Diameter of the Bomb," Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai finds that poetic descriptions can falter and fail in the face of violent tragedy:

And I won’t even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making
a circle with no end and no God.

Some poets have focused on another devastating effect of war: the fear engendered when citizens and nations are forced to take sides, to answer the questions, who is "good?" who is "evil?" C. P. Cavafy explored this problem in his allegorical poem "Waiting for the Barbarians," written in 1898. The poem describes a citizenry so fully afraid of a barbarian invasion that the society has stopped functioning. The poem concludes:

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Other poets have recognized the ironic blurring of opposing forces that often occurs in wartime. Yusef Komyankaa's book Dien Cai Dau, for example, written from the perspective of an African-American soldier fighting in Vietnam, includes the poem "Tu Do Street," which describes not only the relationship between Vietnamese and American soldiers, but also black and white soldiers:

Back in the bust at Dak To
& Khe Sanh, we fought
the brothers of these women
we now run to hold in our arms.
There’s more than a nation
inside us, as black & white
soldiers touch the same lovers
minutes apart, tasting
each other’s breath,
without knowing these rooms
run into each other like tunnels
leading to the underworld.

Finally, in the face of irrational and unthinkable destruction, such as genocide, the space of words becomes a problematic one, and language appears to dissipate. The poet Paul Celan, who survived the Holocaust, often struggles with describing the events he witnessed and how to escape them, as in his famous poem "Death Fugue":

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined

How do people recover from the devastating conflict of war, especially if their homelands have been ravaged? In "Foundations," the Polish poet Leopold Staff describes how his attempts to "build" have "tumbled down," concluding: "Now when I build, I shall begin / With the smoke from the chimney."

Memorial Day for the War Dead
by Yehuda Amichai

Memorial day for the war dead. Add now
the grief of all your losses to their grief,
even of a woman that has left you. Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.

Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread,
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God.
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding."
No use to weep inside and to scream outside.
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.

Memorial day. Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

The flautist's mouth will stay like that for many days.
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.

A flag loses contact with reality and flies off.
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.

A great and royal animal is dying
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding."

From War Is Kind
by Stephen Crane

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die
The unexplained glory flies above them
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom--
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift, blazing flag of the regiment
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die
Point for them the virtue of slaughter
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

To be continued ad infinitum.


7:59 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Yup, it is Thursday morning for most of us. Doug and Meredith must be on the Oregon coast, mabye having breakfast at the Depot, or whichever cafe they dig.

Hey, I heard from Emily. She does not get as much attention on this site at she is used to, so she requested that I do something about that. Let's start off with a little of her fine poetry:

Heaven Is What I Cannot Reach!
by Emily Dickinson

Heaven is what I cannot reach!
The apple on the tree,
Provided it do hopelss hang,
That "heaven" is, to me.

The color on the cruising cloud,
The interdicted ground
Behind the hill, the house behind, --
There Paradise is found!

The Grass so little has to do –
by Emily Dickinson

The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain –
And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything –

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing –

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards, perishing –

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay –

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host 5
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear 10
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.


SOUL, wilt thou toss again?
By just such a hazard
Hundreds have lost, indeed,
But tens have won an all.

Angels’ breathless ballot 5
Lingers to record thee;
Imps in eager caucus
Raffle for my soul.

New England; Emily Dickinson.

None of these has gained more with time than has Emily Dickinson. Despite her defective sense of form, which makes her a better New Englander than Easterner, she has acquired a permanent following of discriminating readers through her extraordinary insight into the life of the mind and the soul. This insight is that of a latter-day Puritan, completely divorced from the outward stir of life, retiring, by preference, deeper and deeper within. Born in 1830 at Amherst, Massachusetts, she lived there all her life, and in 1886 died there. The inwardness and moral ruggedness of Puritanism she inherited mainly through her father, Edward Dickinson, lawyer and treasurer of Amherst College, a Puritan of the old type, whose heart, according to his daughter, was “pure and terrible.” Her affection for him was so largely compounded with awe that in a sense they were strangers. “I have a brother and sister,” she wrote to her poetical preceptor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson 2 ; “my mother does not care for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they jiggle the mind. They are religious, except me.” Of course, she too was religious, and intensely so, breathing as she did the intoxicating air of Transcendentalism. In person she described herself as “small, like the wren; and my hair is bold like the chestnut burr; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves.” “You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself.” These, and not her family, were actually her companions, together with a few books and her own soul. She had an alert introspection that brought her more than the wealth of the Indies. There is no better example of the New England tendency to moral revery than this last pale Indian-summer flower of Puritanism. She is said literally to have spent years without passing the doorstep, and many more years without leaving her father’s grounds. After the death of her parents, not to mention her dog Carlo, she retired still further within herself, till the sounds of the everyday world must have come to her as from a previous state of existence. 2
“I find ecstacy in living,” she said to Higginson, and spoke truly, as her poems show. In an unexpected light on orchards, in a wistful mood of meadow or wood-border held secure for a moment before it vanished; in the few books that she read—her Keats, her Shakespeare, her Revelation; in the echoes, obscure in origin, that stirred within her own mind and soul, now a tenuous melody, now a deep harmony, a haunting question, or a memorable affirmation;—everywhere she displayed something of the mystic’s insight and joy. And she expressed her experience in her poems, forgetting the world altogether, intent only on the satisfaction of giving her fluid life lasting form, her verse being her journal. Yet the impulse to expression was probably not strong, because she wrote no poems, save one or two, as she herself asserts, until the winter 1861-62, when she was over thirty years old. In the spring of 1862 she wrote a letter to Higginson beginning, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive? The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.” Discerning the divine spark in her shapeless verse, he welcomed her advances, and became her “preceptor,” loyally listened to but, as was inevitable, mainly unheeded. Soon perceiving this, Higginson continued to encourage her, for many years, without trying to divert her lightning-flashes. In “H. H.”—Helen Hunt Jackson, 3 herself a poetess of some distinction, and her early schoolmate at Amherst—she had another sympathetic friend, who, suspecting the extent of her production, asked for the post of literary executor. At length, in 1890, a volume edited by Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd was published, Poems by Emily Dickinson, arranged under various heads according to subject. The book succeeded at once, six editions being sold in the first six months; so that a second series, and later a third, seemed to be justified. From the first selection to the third, however, there is a perceptible declension. 3
The subject division adopted by her editors serves well enough: Life, Love, Nature, Time and Eternity. A mystical poetess sequestered in a Berkshire village, she naturally concerned herself with neither past nor present, but with the things that are timeless. Apparently deriving no inspiration from the war to which Massachusetts, including her preceptorial colonel, gave itself so freely, she spent her days in brooding over the mystery of pain, the true nature of success, the refuge of the tomb, the witchcraft of the bee’s murmur, the election of love, the relation of deed to thought and will. On such subjects she jotted down hundreds of little poems. 4
Though she had an Emersonian faith that fame, if it belonged to her, could not escape her, she cared nothing at all about having it; like not a few Transcendentalists, she might have written on the lintels of her door-post, Whim. That was her guiding divinity, Whim in a high sense: not unruliness, for all her impishness, but complete subjection to the inner dictate. She obeyed it in her mode of life, in her friendships, in her letters, in her poems. It makes her poetry eminently spontaneous—as fresh and artless as experience itself—in spite of the fact that she was not a spontaneous singer. The ringing bursts of melody that are characteristic of the born lyrical poet, such as Burns, she was incapable of; but she had insight, and intense, or rather tense, emotion, and expressed herself with an eye single to the truth. Something she derived from her reading, no doubt, from Emerson, the Brownings, Sir Thomas Browne; but rarely was poet less indebted. From her silent thought she derived what is essential in her work, and her whole effort was to state her thoughts; “when I try to organize,” she said, “my little force explodes and leaves me bare and charred.” If she revised her work, as she did industriously, it was to render it not more attractive but truer. 5
Her poems are remarkable for their condensation, their vividness of image, their delicate or pungent satire and irony, their childlike responsiveness to experience, their subtle feeling for nature, their startling abruptness in dealing with themes commonly regarded as trite, their excellence in imaginative insight and still greater excellence in fancy. Typical is such a poem as that in which she celebrates the happiness of a little stone on the road, or that in which she remarks with gleeful irony upon the dignity that burial has in store for each of us—coach and footmen, bells in the village, “as we ride grand along.” Emily Dickinson takes us to strange places; one never knows what is in store. But always she is penetrating and dainty, both intimate and aloof, challenging lively thought on our part while remaining, herself, a charmingly elfish mystery. Her place in American letters will be inconspicuous but secure.

And now, Emily, I hope you feel more loved, cherished, and revered. Doug would not ever slight you, and though this tribute is by proxy, it is so very sincere.

And now beatniks, beaters, and beatnettes, let us shift our gaze and our esoteric sensibilities to one of my favorite Beat poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. This takes us leagues, even landscapes away from the sweetness and isolation of Ms. Emily, but here goes:

Constantly Risking Absurdity

Constantly risking absurdity
and death
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
the poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of the day
performing entrachats
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
any thing
for what it may not be
For he's the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap
And he
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
of existence

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning

There's a breathless hush on the freeway tonight
Beyond the ledges of concrete
restaurants fall into dreams
with candlelight couples
Lost Alexandria still burns
in a billion lightbulbs
Lives cross lives
idling at stoplights
Beyond the cloverleaf turnoffs
'Souls eat souls in the general emptiness'
A piano concerto comes out a kitchen window
A yogi speaks at Ojai
'It's all taking pace in one mind'
On the lawn among the trees
lovers are listening
for the master to tell them they are one
with the universe
Eyes smell flowers and become them
There's a deathless hush
on the freeway tonight
as a Pacific tidal wave a mile high
sweeps in
Los Angeles breathes its last gas
and sinks into the sea like the Titanic all lights lit
Nine minutes later Willa Cather's Nebraska
sinks with it
The sea comes over in Utah
Mormon tabernacles washed away like barnacles
Coyotes are confounded & swim nowhere
An orchestra onstage in Omaha
keeps on playing Handel's Water Music
Horns fill with water
ans bass players float away on their instruments
clutching them like lovers horizontal
Chicago's Loop becomes a rollercoaster
Skyscrapers filled like water glasses
Great Lakes mixed with Buddhist brine
Great Books watered down in Evanston
Milwaukee beer topped with sea foam
Beau Fleuve of Buffalo suddenly become salt
Manhatten Island swept clean in sixteen seconds
buried masts of Amsterdam arise
as the great wave sweeps on Eastward
to wash away over-age Camembert Europe
manhatta steaming in sea-vines
the washed land awakes again to wilderness
the only sound a vast thrumming of crickets
a cry of seabirds high over
in empty eternity
as the Hudson retakes its thickets
and Indians reclaim their canoes

Seascape With Sun and Eagle

than most birds
an eagle flies up
over San Francisco
freer than most places
soars high up
floats and glides high up
in the still
open spaces
flown from the mountains
floated down
far over ocean
where the sunset has begun
a mirror of itself
He sails high over
turning and turning
where seaplanes might turn
where warplanes might burn
He wheels about burning
in the red sun
climbs and glides
and doubles back upon himself
now over ocean
now over land
high over pinwheels suck in sand
where a rollercoaster used to stand
soaring eagle setting sun
All that is left of our wilderness

A Vast Confusion

Long long I lay in the sands
Sounds of trains in the surf
in subways of the sea
And an even greater undersound
of a vast confusion in the universe
a rumbling and a roaring
as of some enormous creature turning
under sea and earth
a billion sotto voices murmuring
a vast muttering
a swelling stuttering
in ocean's speakers
world's voice-box heard with ear to sand
a shocked echoing
a shocking shouting
of all life's voices lost in night
And the tape of it
someow running backwards now
through the Moog Synthesizer of time
Chaos unscrambled
back to the first
And the first light

In closing I would like to hear from one my favorite Beat Up Poets, Glenn Buttkus:


Rainier loomed large
on the cusp of my
out an elementary school window,
over a back fence,
at the end of a street,
reflected in lakes;
and always depicted
on phone book covers.

We were all devout
mountain watchers,
because it is not on display
every single day.
Much of the time it is
swaddled in cumulus,
leaving the horizon flat;
snatched by playful giants,
gone for several days,
probably placed in a distant land,
or a nearby dimension,
where others could also marvel
at its majesty;
only to reappear one morning,
snow ablaze with sunrise,
like a red spirit,
all tall and raspberry
and mystical.

You were not reared in its shadow,
and yet how respectful and loving
you greet it,
as you would an old friend;
as if across the vastness of the ages,
through other eyes,
you embraced its singular immensity

Maybe that is why
we keep hauling the girls
up its slopes,
training them,
conditioning them;
so that in the future
it will also be
the sentinal of their happiness;
as it has always been
for us.

Glenn Buttkus 1993


Solitary sentinal,
a bull elk trumpets
across the thin white vastness,
to a red hawk riding
the hot thermals
that swirl up
from cold granite peaks,
dropping and rising,
then bobbing,
on the soft wind.

A bald eagle
when raspberry runs
down Rainier's ridges,
feathered white crown resplendent
in purple fire,
diving down
for its dinner
in American Lake.

A black crow,
token jokester,
nearly invisible
against the night skyline,
soaring high
above the lights of the city,
winging inexorably
toward its special destiny.

A gray gull,
circling the Sound,
searching for the moment
when it will
slice a hole in the dark clouds,
so as to soar unfettered
in the electric blue;
never silent,
its sibilant haunting cry
floated inland.

I heard it clearly,
on my hilltop,
always on high
able to stride across skyscrapers,
at one with the glass
and black steel
that thrusts deep
into the bottom of the sky.

Glenn Buttkus 1986

Oh I must add, Sir Savant, out there on the Oregon coast, I finally got my CD player fixed on my office computer, and I am enjoying some of your amazing concertos, those ones you sent me, in their entirity. It really is quite good, quite inspiring music. I am enjoying it, and will listen to it intently.

I managed to finish my review on A THOUSAND CLOWNS yesterday, in between my teaching chores here at the sweat shop, this special place of learning, culture, and frivolity. I will send you a copy just for grins.


7:05 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Let's talk about being Butch. Butch I am, and have always been. It was my nickname as a child, and now since most of my family have passed beyond the veil, only a few folks left out there that still call me that. My aunt Jean, who is webmistress of is one of them, my uncle Dick, my sister, my brother, some of my odd nieces and nephews --and that is a wierd one, being called uncle Butch.

Butch can be another way of calling a woman a dyke, or lesbian. I believe it was a character in the Mel Blanc cannon of charactors, a bull dog I think. My wife's brother-in-law, a former cop in Houston, who died of a bad heart at 51 years old, was named Butch.

Old Webster says: from the French, Butch; a male nickname (1941). 1. Very masculine (hey, that's certainly me!)in appearance or manner. 2. playing the male role in a homosexual relationship.

Of course there was Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy.

Among the subcultures composed of butch gay men is the "bear community". Gay men who are more femme are sometimes described as "flamers". Femmes are sometimes confused with "lipstick lesbians" which generally are understood to be feminine lesbians who are attracted to and partner with other feminine lesbians. Conversely butch lesbians may be described as a "bulldyke" or simply just "dyke." The usage of "dyke" has widened in recent years to encompass gay women in general. At one point both were considered derogatory; "dyke" has become a more neutral term, but may still be taken as offensive if used in a derogatory manner or by those outside the LGBT community.

But somehow research does not lead to the root of Butch, to the history. Perhaps I search too intently. Perhaps I wish for more than is accessible. Perhaps I am just full of shit.

I like the way Butch sounded when it was spoken by my grandfather, Earl "Sky" Carpenter. It was said with pride, with love, with wonder. He thought I was quite a grandson, slated for great things in life. But then he also believed in a brotherhood of man, and Communism, and none of that has worked out too well either.

For fun, for nostalgia, Aunt Jean and I printed up a batch of letters Pop and I wrote over the decades. Here is an example:



Butch: December 11, 1966

How unfortunate this goddamned world is, to be so stupid as to take a man with a mind so deep with beautiful thots
and let him be buried and disciplined by the military for 4 years of uselessness and depraved stupid life, instead of
opening the doors of learning and culture for him to grow in, and help to develop more minds to enrich the life of all humanity. Thanks, my boy, for the nice things you said about my painting. I guess that you are the only one in the damn world that begins to understand a little of what goes on inside me, and I guess it is because you have things going on inside too that only "you" can feel, but fortunately you have words to put to the music in your heart, and I know that even
tho almost no one is sensual enough to really understand the storm that rages for expression inside of you, you do have choices and will have many more friends who can get the message, and that will be your life. You speak of intrinsic value.

Well, boy, your ODE TO OVUM must have repaid you for some of the sorrow and grief you have suffered. It shook me to the core of my being, and every line left me crying. It painted a thousand pictures right out of my own memory, and gave me the feeling that all the beauty that you found words to express did not fade with the last flicker of the candle, but will live on thru you, and others who are blessed with her love, on until man finally builds a world that is free of man's inhumanity to man, burys the sword, and works only for the good of all people.

To me, this is the only sin-this great concentration of wealth and power and science to kill for profit, and yet fail to develop talents like your own, that would enrich the places of culture, and let beauty take the place of ignorance
and fear.

You are a terrific person, a thinker with the power to express your thots. I'll always cherish the fact that you give me credit for being intelligent enough to understand your open verse. Actually, I never liked open verse, but then I guess I didn't understand it; but I sure do understand this, and it rocks me into doing a lot of thinking that I've never done before. I have always known that people, including myself, have some mysterious power locked in their minds, crying for expression, but I never knew what in hell could be done about it. Now, I know; instead of putting the
thots away, or pushing them out of your mind for lack of a means of expression, or you could find no one who could understand anyway--you should nurse and develop those thots, and record them. They are the zygotes or the genes that has caused the evolution of man. Ever since he came out of the swamp and brushed the long hair out of his eyes and looked around and began to wonder, became conscious of his own being...he has been plagued with thots. Sometimes it made him do strange things, because he didn't understand what they meant- but those thots, whatever they are, or wherever they came from, were the direct cause of his evolution, and the reason that he is now what he is. Now if he can use his thinker to make the world fit to live in, instead of destroying the whole damn thing, including himself...he has suddenly become a success; for now he has the words and the thots, and most importantly, the knowledge.

I hope the Navy don't take away any of the good in your head, or add anything that will contaminate the beauty that lies there just waiting to add a little richness to life, and help to control the unyielding Butch.

Well, boy, that is the way your "great gaudy panorama" affects me. Of course, I am a vitally concerned individual- I'm your grandpappy, and am highly emotional and excited at everything any of you kids do that is good (or bad), but I think this is really exceptional [my poem], and beside the fact that it painted a vivid and beautiful panorama, that was of course already familiar to me, I believe it has a great lesson in it for most everyone in their mad plunge toward "success", riding roughshod over all the beautiful things in life- trying to arrive; struggling and fighting to reach a destination, yet failing to enjoy the journey along the way to success. When they suddenly arrive at their destination, too often they will look back with sorrow at the beauty they were too busy to notice in their mad struggle to tromp everyone else down, and climb on top.

Sidebar: written in the margin: "Thanks for the present, it is WONDERFUL, and it is YOU."

Your poem is beautiful and spoken in truth, and from deep within a heart that must and will some day be recognized for the greatness it holds.

I am proud of you, and even tho it tore my heart outby the "roots", I think its great. One thing, for sure, you are what you are, and you've got the words and the guts to reveal your self. So keep up the good work and goddamn it to hell,

I'm going to try and paint as good as you think. I can, and maybe some day will reach a plane of common understanding with the rest of the world.

I couldn't find a way to talk to you, but I've known how you were filled up inside with sorrow, and now it has found some release. I hope Buddy can find some way of releasing the emotion in himself. I know it is there. He is real deep, but not much to discuss his troubles. Tell him we love him, and give Art and Dick our love.

Show the poem to Dick. He'll love it. He thinks that you are a great mind. Then maybe Art would like it too. Well...anyway, I appreciate the great explosion, and I know that you have many more surprises and jewels in that head that will come to light some day to the benefit of this whole God Damned Universe. Don't ever let that Dynamo in your heart run cold. You've got what it takes, and By God I hope I'll see the day you put your talents over. I'm going to sell this asylum, and then maybe when you get out of stir, I can help you in some way.

Glad you wrote- do it again. Or come over. We can't get away for Xmas. Too broke.

Love to All: Pop

P.S.: (on a smaller scrap of paper) Your letter is as beautiful as your poem. I read my letter to you over again, and altho it don't begin to express my respect for your writing, I'll send it anyway. It is as good as my poor command of English will permit.

I also just read your poem again, and every time I read it, it gets more beautiful, and it seems to me that it is a wonderful tribute to the wonderful mother she was, and a beautiful statement of devotion by a wonderful son. She would be very proud if she could read it [oh...I think she has.] and I don't know, of course, that she hasn't.

I am flattered that you sent the poem to me to read. I just can't get over how simply and vividly it paints so many beautiful pictures of your life and hers. The joys, tears, sunshine and rain, the hope and the sorrow. I love you for it.

2nd P.S.: (on the back of the scrap of paper) We really can't make it over for Xmas, but we'll surely go over before you go in the Navy. At least...maybe we can.

Well, after you've paid your debt to the government for the crime of being born, and you're out of stir in like 4 years, maybe I'll be free of this asylum, and be able to help you in some way.

But, of course, four years is not so long to a fellow 22 years old, but to an old goat that is 69, it is quite a challenge. But, even at 73, when you return, that is not anything to scare a guy who came from a long line of hairy old dogs like some of my forefathers (and mothers).

Anyway, I never have had any fear of Death. There's an old proverb that goes something like this:
He who is not afraid
dies only once,
while he who fears death
dies a thousand deaths.
But anyway, I'll bet I'll be around- just to cheat Social Security if nothing else.

The poem he refers to, ODE TO OVUM, was written not long after my mother died in 1966, and I ended up in the Navy.


In the beginning I was her prisoner,
and I did not love her.
I did not even know her in the womb darkness;
tiny, warm, with blind eyes closed,
listening to her strong heart beat
and sucking her hot red blood.
Time was liquid black and I embraced perfect solitude.

Yet fool that I was, I longed for freedom,
and she gave it to me
all at once;
sights, sounds, roars, lights, smells, shrieks, life.

Pain and milk came quickly and I grew
fat and tossle-haired.
As I tested my world, ate bugs and coal, burned my fingers, buried my nose in flowers and snow, and asked why, why, why,
she loved patiently, wiping my nose, teaching me about gentleness
in the garden and in men.

She wept when I did,
her tears streaking her face powder, her chin quivering.
I remember her still towering over me,
full-bosomed, with sun-streaked chestnut tresses,
and eyes of snowbank sapphire,
the withering, the time of cancer blight.
Hollow cheeks, glassy eyes staring at nothing.
Life flickering
like a candle flame too near the holder,
once white hot and alive;
dead now,
wisps of sad smoke lingering after it.

Glenn Buttkus

November 1966

A few weeks after my mother passed away.

Anyway, that is, and those were and are some of my thoughts about being Butch.


7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dougie Dearest:

I am so pleased that you enticed Butch to donate some site space for some of my poetry and bio. I lie fallow, fecund, and famous --but that is not enough.

I fret and worry that you will not be given the fame, fortune, and respect of your peers --all things you deserve, dear one. I was all a titter when I heard you had finally scared up enough violinists to perform one of your wonderful compositions. That should be quite an affair. I will be there in spirit, cheering you on, sending my love to mingle with the love of all your compeers and friends.

I am pleased, of course, when you and that woman, you know which one I mean, go off on sojourns and "vacations". Heading off to the sea is a good thing. Nothing like salt laden air to clear the cobwebs from your cranium. Butch, it sounds like, likes to take his wife, (Melva is it?), to the ocean. She loves it, as women tend to do, and he has learned to appreciate it, and some day may love it. He loves her, and being there with her is enough for him. The ocean is secondary. Isn't that romantic? I have been working on some poetry after death, and I must say, it is very special. Some of it is dedicated to you, my large burning hunk of man. You worried me when you were younger. You were burning so bright, I feared you might burn out, like James Dean, of John Belushi. But no, here you are, a man of leisure in your 60's, finding the time to read literature, compose music, build musical instruments with your long fingers and strong hands, and suddenly you find there are not enough hours in the days that stretch out before you. How odd that seems to me, with Eternity at my feet, swirling about me. I do wait for you, sweetheart. I wait in my white dress. And tell Butch to quit making references to my lesbian tendencies. It really is none of his damned business.


7:49 AM  
Blogger butch said...

I wonder, oh yes I do, how many wonderful "unseen" comments Anonomann and others have added to this string? I love Anonomann's response several comments ago:
"Butch--I forgot what I wanted to comment on your comment by the time I finished reading your comment."
Hey they don't call me the Viscount of Vebosity for nothing, brother.

Anonomann mentioned that the patron saint of music was St. Celcelia. That was one I had not heard of:


Also known as
Cecily; Cicilia
22 November
Cultivated young patrician woman whose ancestors loomed large in Rome's history. She vowed her virginity to God, but her parents married her to Valerian of Trastevere. Cecilia told her new husband that she was accompanied by an angel, but in order to see it, he must be purified. He agreed to the purification, and was baptised; returning from the ceremony, he found her in prayer accompanied by a praying angel. The angel placed a crown on each of their heads, and offered Valerian a favor; the new convert asked that his brother be baptised.

The two brothers developed a ministry of giving proper burial to martyred Christians. In their turn they were arrested and martyred for their faith. Cecilia buried them at her villa on the Apprian Way, and was arrested for the action. She was ordered to sacrifice to false gods; when she refused, she was martyred in her turn.

The Acta of Cecilia includes the following: "While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse." It was this phrase that led to her association with music, singers, musicians, etc.
martyred c.117; suffocated for a while, and when that didn't kill her, she was beheaded; her grave was discovered in 817, and her body removed to the church of Saint Cecilia in Rome; the tomb was opened in 1599, and her body found to be incorrupt
Name Meaning
Academy of Music, Rome; Albi France; composers; martyrs; music; musicians; musical instrument makers; archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska; poets; singers
musical instruments, especially a lute or organ; roses

Gosh, Anonomann and his lovely Librarian must be sending reams of goodies to this link as I write, and plink, and type. I will be anxious for the 15th to come, and the return of Lane Savant, in order to read the entire lexicon. Of course it will be delicious to also hear about, or read about, the exploits of Msr. Palmer, and Ms. Meredith.

aka:"I got blisters on my fingers!"

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed anche e molto pericoloso de ladare i mei libri!!
So, don't steal my books either, or Vito will put holes in your corpo, too.

-- Anonomann (Il incognitaro)

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir Lane:
The 5th floor has just celebrated the cuckuck being elected "Bird of the Year 2008".

Sancho Anonomann

2:14 AM  
Blogger butch said...

And now it is Friday. I guess the dogs have been fed, and the Sheriff has his envelope, and Vitto got his cash, and Doug & Meredith are living it up at the shores, there South in Oregon, sans tourists, sans sun probably too. One of the issues of Fall and Winter getaways is the weather, but this will be great for staying indoors a lot to read, eat cookies, and sleep.

I am going to slink out of the office a couple hours early today and go to Office Depot. I have a disk of the MISS MELVA'S 4TH ANNUAL BIRTHDAY BASH logo,which we put on toilet paper wrappers and coffee mugs this year. I think I will surprise her and get a nice 11x17" color blow up of it done to hang up at the house we will rent at Pac Beach next week.

Man, the ocean certainly does have its pull on FFTL'ers. The lunar cycle perhaps, the pull of the tides; powerful stuff, mysterious miasma of memories, beachcoming, seaweed, broken crab shells, hordes and flocks of crows and sea gulls, crashing waves that thunder into the night, and still pound away as you awaken, piled high driftwood, bleached and still wet with some logs being huge, dropped off some Japanese timber barge or something.

Speaking of Fidelio, did you take him or it with you? That would have been cool. Brings to mind several good films about bicycles, like:
Bicycle Thief (1948)
Breaking Away (1979)
American Flyers (1985)
Quicksilver (1986)

And there were a couple of others:

Shiqi sui de dan che (2001)
aka "Beijing Bicycle" - France, (English title)

Vélo de Ghislain Lambert, Le (2001)
aka "Ghislan Lambert's Bicycle" - (English title)

Fish Without a Bicycle (2003)
4. Kanarini podilato, To (1999)
aka "The Canary Yellow Bicycle" - (English title)
5. Elefante y la bicicleta, El (1994)
aka "The Elephant and the Bicycle" - Australia (literal English title)
6. Selyaninat s koleloto (1974)
aka "A Peasant on a Bicycle" - (English title)
7. Escarabajo, El (1983)
aka "The Bicycle Racer" - (English title) (informal title)

"Bicyclette bleue, La" (2000) (mini)
aka "The Blue Bicycle" - USA
9. Boy and Bicycle (1965)
aka "Boy on a Bicycle"
10. Bicycle Trick Riding, No. 2 (1899)
11. The Angel, the Bicycle and the Chinaman's Finger (1991)
12. Beyaz bisiklet (1986)
aka "The White Bicycle" - (English title)
13. Bicycle Messengers (2006)
14. Bicycle Safety (1975)
15. Elgar: Fantasy of a Composer on a Bicycle (2002) (TV)
16. I'm No Fool with a Bicycle (1955)
17. Zaczarowany rower (1955)
aka "Magical Bicycle"
18. 1,000 Mile Ride Over the Ice on a Bicycle (1903)
19. Bicycle Board Games (2003) (VG)
20. The Bicycle Clown (1958)

The Bicycle Corps: America's Black Army on Wheels (2000) (TV)
22. Bicycle Dive (1903)
23. The Bicycle Flirt (1928)
24. Bicycle Girl (1897)
25. Bicycle Hora (1968)
26. Bicycle Paced Race (1901)
27. Bicycle Parade on the Boulevard (1896)
28. Bicycle Parade, Philadelphia (1903)
29. The Bicycle Race (1920)
30. Bicycle Thieves (1997)

Bicycle Trip (2005)
32. Columbia Bicycle Factory (1897)
33. Da otkriesh velosipeda (1989)
aka "To Discover the Bicycle" - (English title)
34. Faulkner's Bicycle (1997)
35. A French Bicycle Corps (1902)
36. Ginrin (1955)
aka "Bicycle in Dream" - (English title)
37. Go Ride Your Bicycle (2007)
38. Jack's Bicycle (1990)
39. Jalgrattataltsutajad (1964)
aka "The Bicycle Tamers" - (English title)
40. Jeffries Training on Bicycle (1899)
41. Jitensha toiki (1990)
aka "Bicycle Sighs" - (English title)
42. Jorge y la bomba (2000)
aka "George and the Bicycle Pump" - (English title)
43. A Lady's First Lesson on a Bicycle (1902)
44. Nippon no jitensha dorobô (2006)
aka "The Bicycle Thief Was Bad" - (English title)
45. One-Third Mile Bicycle Race (1897)
46. A Paced Bicycle Race (1897)
47. Professional Handicap Bicycle Race (1901)
48. Race Between Dog Team, Bicycle and Cutter (1903)
49. Robbins, Champion of All Champions (1902)
aka "Trick Bicycle Riding" - USA (reissue title)
50. Rudge and Whitworth, Britain's Best Bicycle (1902)
51. A Unique Race (1899)
aka "A Unique Race Between Elephant, Bicycle, Camel, Horse and Automobile" - USA (copyright title)
52. You and Your Bicycle (1960)

Elgar, Fantasy of a Composer on a Bicycle should interest Lane Savant some.

Gosh, I hope the getaway went well and fun was had by all.


6:44 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Now that Butch and Anonomann have opened those literary floodgates, I thought it would be nice to include some more Dickinson data:


Among the ranks of other such acclaimed poets as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson is considered one of the most original 19th Century American poets. She is noted for her unconventional broken rhyming meter and use of dashes and random capitalisation as well as her creative use of metaphor and overall innovative style. She was a deeply sensitive woman who questioned the puritanical background of her Calvinist family and soulfully explored her own spirituality, often in poignant, deeply personal poetry. She admired the works of John Keats and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but avoided the florid and romantic style of her time, creating poems of pure and concise imagery, at times witty and sardonic, often boldly frank and illuminating the keen insight she had into the human condition. At times characterised as a semi-invalid, a hermit, a heartbroken introvert, or a neurotic agoraphobic, her poetry is sometimes brooding and sometimes joyous and celebratory. Her sophistication and profound intellect has been lauded by laymen and scholars alike and influenced many other authors and poets into the 21st Century. There has been much speculation and controversy over details of Dickinson’s life including her sexual orientation, romantic attachments, her later reclusive years, and the editing and publication of various volumes of her poems. This biography serves only as an overview of her life and poetry and leaves the in-depth analysis to the many scholars who have devoted years to the study of Emily Dickinson, the woman and her works.

A Thunderstorm

The wind begun to rock the grass
With threatening tunes and low, -
He flung a menace at the earth,
A menace at the sky.

The leaves unhooked themselves from trees
And started all abroad;
The dust did scoop itself like hands
And throw away the road.

The wagons quickened on the streets,
The thunder hurried slow;
The lightning showed a yellow beak,
And then a livid claw.

The birds put up the bars to nests,
The cattle fled to barns;
There came one drop of giant rain,
And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky,
But overlooked my father's house,
Just quartering a tree.

Dickinson's poetry reflects her loneliness and the speakers of her poems generally live in a state of want, but her poems are also marked by the intimate recollection of inspirational moments which are decidedly life-giving and suggest the possibility of happiness. Her work was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town which encouraged a Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity.

She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as John Keats. Though she was dissuaded from reading the verse of her contemporary Walt Whitman by rumor of its disgracefulness, the two poets are now connected by the distinguished place they hold as the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice. While Dickinson was extremely prolific as a poet and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890 and the last in 1955. She died in Amherst in 1886.

Upon her death, Dickinson's family discovered 40 handbound volumes of more than 800 of her poems, or "fascicles" as they are sometimes called. These booklets were made by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of poems in an order that many critics believe to be more than chronological. The handwritten poems show a variety of dash-like marks of various sizes and directions (some are even vertical). The poems were initially unbound and published according to the aesthetics of her many early editors, removing her unusual and varied dashes and replacing them with traditional punctuation. The current standard version replaces her dashes with a standard "n-dash," which is a closer typographical approximation of her writing. Furthermore, the original order of the works was not restored until 1981, when Ralph W. Franklin used the physical evidence of the paper itself to restore her order, relying on smudge marks, needle punctures and other clues to reassemble the packets. Since then, many critics have argued for thematic unity in these small collections, believing the ordering of the poems to be more than chronological or convenient. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (Belknap Press, 1981) remains the only volume that keeps the order intact.

The sexuality of Emily Dickinson is a topic of dispute; it has been argued that she may have been bisexual or lesbian.

Dickinson's possible romantic and sexual adventures are matters of great controversy among her biographers and critics. There is little evidence on which to base a conclusion about the objects of her affection, though Dickinson's understanding of passion can be inferred through some of her poems and letters.

Attention has focused especially on a group of letters addressed only to "Master", known as the Master letters, in which Dickinson appears to be writing to a male lover; neither the addressee of these letters, nor whether they were sent, has been established. Some biographers have been convinced Dickinson might have been romantically involved with the newspaper publisher Samuel Bowles, a friend of her father's, Judge Otis Lord, or a minister named Charles Wadsworth. A relatively recent theory has emerged that proposes William S. Clark, a prominent figure in Amherst at the time, as the identity of her "Master".

Some biographers have theorized Dickinson may have had romantic attachments to women in her younger years, a hypothesis which has grown in popularity. After a claimed romance with Emily Fowler, circa 1850, some conjecture that Susan Gilbert 1851, her closest friend and sister-in-law, was another possible love. The evidence for all these theories is circumstantial at best. Many scholars claim that the evidence for the latter theory about her relationship with women is scant and highly ambiguous.

Peggy Macintosh, from Wellesley College's Center for Research on Women, and Ellen Louise Hart, from University of California at Santa Cruz: Cowell College, in their introduction of Emily Dickinson in The Heath Anthology of American Literature (Fifth Edition) note that "It is important to understand the role in Dickinson studies played by homophobia.... We do not know to what extent Dickinson expressed her sexual desires physically...."

Whether Dickinson had romantic feelings for women or not, it is important to remember that her poetry was heavily edited by several people before being released into the public posthumously. According to Macintosh and Hart, there is evidence that Mabel Loomis Todd (the editor) was Austin Dickinson's mistress, and together they "mutilated Dickinson’s manuscripts, erasing [Susan's] name and scissoring out references to her." There were lines of poems that were completely scratched out. Todd was involved in the editing of all three initial volumes of Emily's published works. This alteration of documents throws possible romantic aspects into ambiguity.

Other aspects, though, such as their lifelong friendship (late teens to Emily's death), are not ambiguous. It is well-known that no one received more writing from Emily than Susan Gilbert. There were hundreds of letters found, which Gilbert reciprocated. Dickinson's few friendships were all very close, and her friendship with Gilbert was no exception. Some of the letters were very passionate, furthering this ambiguity. While many of Dickinson's letters and poems are highly charged, passionate, and erotic, few biographers or critics believe that Dickinson physically consummated a relationship with anyone.

gauge the extent of Dickinson's rebellion, consideration must be taken of the nature of church membership at the time as well as the attitudes toward revivalist fervor. As shown by Edward Dickinson's and Susan Gilbert's decisions to join the church in 1850, church membership was not tied to any particular stage of a person's life. To be enrolled as a member was not a matter of age but of "conviction." The individuals had first to be convinced of a true conversion experience, had to believe themselves chosen by God, of his "elect." In keeping with the old-style Calvinism, the world was divided among the regenerate, the unregenerate, and those in between. The categories Mary Lyon used at Mount Holyoke ("established Christians," "without hope," and "with hope") were the standard of the revivalist. But unlike their Puritan predecessors, the members of this generation moved with greater freedom between the latter two categories. Those "without hope" might well see a different possibility for themselves after a season of intense religious focus. The nineteenth-century Christians of Calvinist persuasion continued to maintain the absolute power of God's election. His omnipotence could not be compromised by an individual's effort; however, the individual's unquestioning search for a true faith was an unalterable part of the salvific equation. While God would not simply choose those who chose themselves, he also would only make his choice from those present and accounted for-- thus, the importance of church attendance as well as the centrality of religious self-examination. Revivals guaranteed that both would be inescapable.

As Dickinson wrote in a poem dated to 1875, "Escape is such a thankful Word." In fact, her references to "escape" occur primarily in reference to the soul. In her scheme of redemption, salvation depended upon freedom. The poem ends with praise for the "trusty word" of escape. Contrasting a vision of "the savior" with the condition of being "saved," Dickinson says there is clearly one choice: "And that is why I lay my Head / Upon this trusty word." She invites the reader to compare one incarnation with another. Upending the Christian language about the "word," Dickinson substitutes her own agency for the incarnate savior. She will choose "escape." A decade earlier, the choice had been as apparent. In the poems from 1862 Dickinson describes the soul's defining experiences. Figuring these "events" in terms of moments, she passes from the soul's "Bandaged moments" of suspect thought to the soul's freedom. In these "moments of escape," the soul will not be confined; nor will its explosive power be contained: "The soul has moments of escape-- / When bursting all the doors-- / She dances like a Bomb, abroad, / And swings upon the Hours."

Like the soul of her description, Dickinson refused to be confined by the elements expected of her. The demands of her father's, her mother's, and her dear friends' religion invariably prompted such "moments of escape." During the period of the 1850 revival in Amherst, Dickinson reported her own assessment of the circumstances. Far from using the language of "renewal" associated with revivalist vocabulary, she described a landscape of desolation darkened by an affliction of the spirit. In her "rebellion" letter to Humphrey, she wrote,

How lonely this world is growing, something so desolate creeps over the spirit and we don't know it's name, and it won't go away, either Heaven is seeming greater, or Earth a great deal more small, or God is more "Our Father," and we feel our need increased. Christ is calling everyone here, all my companions have answered, even my darling Vinnie believes she loves, and trusts him, and I am standing alone in rebellion, and growing very careless. Abby, Mary, Jane, and farthest of all my Vinnie have been seeking, and they all believe they have found; I can't tell you what they have found, but they think it is something precious. I wonder if it is?

As the one who stood outside the conversion experience, she saw loneliness in the place of church fellowship. Where others rejoiced in the workings of the spirit, she assessed the desolation it created and wondered over the believers' assumptions. Is their faith well-founded? While they esteem their findings "precious," she cannot help but wonder doubly about their conclusion. Is it worth what they hope, and is its existence sure? She asks, "I wonder if it is?"

Dickinson's question frames the decade. Within those ten years she defined what was incontrovertibly precious to her. Not religion, but poetry; not the vehicle reduced to its tenor, but the process of making metaphor and watching the meaning emerge. As early as 1850 her letters suggest that her mind was turning over the possibility of her own work. Extending the contrast between herself and her friends, she described but did not specify an "aim" to her life. She announced its novelty ("I have dared to do strange things--bold things"), asserted her independence ("and have asked no advice from any"), and couched it in the language of temptation ("I have heeded beautiful tempters"). She described the winter as one long dream from which she had not yet awakened. That winter began with the gift of Emerson's Poems for New Year's. Her letters of the period are frequent and long. Their heightened language provided working space for herself as writer. In these passionate letters to her female friends, she tried out different voices. At times she sounded like the female protagonist from a contemporary novel; at times, she was the narrator who chastises her characters for their failure to see beyond complicated circumstances. She played the wit and sounded the divine, exploring the possibility of the new converts' religious faith only to come up short against its distinct unreality in her own experience. And finally, she confronted the difference imposed by that challenging change of state from daughter/sister to wife.

Lacking the letters written to Dickinson, readers cannot know whether the language of her friends matched her own, but the freedom with which Dickinson wrote to Humphrey and to Fowler suggests that their own responses encouraged hers. Perhaps this sense of encouragement was nowhere stronger than with Gilbert. Although little is known of their early relations, the letters written to Gilbert while she was teaching at Baltimore speak with a kind of hope for a shared perspective, if not a shared vocation. Recent critics have speculated that Gilbert, like Dickinson, thought of herself as a poet. Several of Dickinson's letters stand behind this speculation, as does one of the few pieces of surviving correspondence with Gilbert from 1861--their discussion and disagreement over the second stanza of Dickinson's "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers." Writing to Gilbert in 1851, Dickinson imagined that their books would one day keep company with the poets. They will not be ignominiously jumbled together with grammars and dictionaries (the fate assigned to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's in the local stationer's). Sue and Emily, she reports, are "the only poets."

Whatever Gilbert's poetic aspirations were, Dickinson clearly looked to Gilbert as one of her most important readers, if not the most important. She sent Gilbert more than 270 of her poems. Gilbert may well have read most of the poems that Dickinson wrote. In many cases the poems were written for her. They functioned as letters, with perhaps an additional line of greeting or closing. Gilbert's involvement, however, did not satisfy Dickinson. In 1850-1851 there had been some minor argument, perhaps about religion. In the mid 1850s a more serious break occurred, one that was healed, yet one that marked a change in the nature of the relationship. In a letter dated to 1854 Dickinson begins bluntly, "Sue--you can go or stay--There is but one alternative--We differ often lately, and this must be the last." The nature of the difference remains unknown. Critics have speculated about its connection with religion, with Austin Dickinson, with poetry, with their own love for each other. The nature of that love has been much debated: What did Dickinson's passionate language signify? Her words are the declarations of a lover, but such language is not unique to the letters to Gilbert. It appears in the correspondence with Fowler and Humphrey. As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has illustrated in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (1985), the passionate nature of female friendships is something the late twentieth century was little prepared to understand. Modern categories of sexual relations, finally, do not fit neatly with the verbal record of the nineteenth century. "The love that dare not speak its name" may well have been a kind of common parlance among mid-nineteenth-century women.

Dickinson's own ambivalence toward marriage-- an ambivalence so common as to be ubiquitous in the journals of young women--was clearly grounded in her perception of what the role of "wife" required. From her own housework as dutiful daughter, she had seen how secondary her own work became. In her observation of married women, her mother not excluded, she saw the failing health, the unmet demands, the absenting of self that was part of the husband-wife relationship. The "wife" poems of the 1860s reflect this ambivalence. The gold wears away; "amplitude" and "awe" are absent for the woman who meets the requirements of wife. The loss remains unspoken, but, like the irritating grain in the oyster's shell, it leaves behind ample evidence.

She rose to His Requirement--droptThe Playthings of Her LifeTo take the honorable WorkOf Woman, and of Wife--

If ought She missed in Her new Day,Of Amplitude, or Awe--Or first Prospective--Or the GoldIn using, wear away,

It lay unmentioned--as the SeaDevelope Pearl, and Weed,But only to Himself--be knownThe Fathoms they abide--

Little wonder that the words of another poem bound the woman's life by the wedding. In one line the woman is "Born--Bridalled--Shrouded."

Such thoughts did not belong to the poems alone. Writing to Gilbert in the midst of Gilbert's courtship with Austin Dickinson, only four years before their marriage, Dickinson painted a haunting picture. She began with a discussion of "union" but implied that its conventional connection with marriage was not her meaning. She wrote, "Those unions, my dear Susie, by which two lives are one, this sweet and strange adoption wherein we can but look, and are not yet admitted, how it can fill the heart, and make it gang wildly beating, how it will take us one day, and make us all it's own, and we shall not run away from it, but lie still and be happy!" The use evokes the conventional association with marriage, but as Dickinson continued her reflection, she distinguished between the imagined happiness of "union" and the parched life of the married woman. She commented, "How dull our lives must seem to the bride, and the plighted maiden, whose days are fed with gold, and who gathers pearls every evening; but to the wife, Susie, sometimes the wife forgotten, our lives perhaps seem dearer than all others in the world; you have seen flowers at morning, satisfied with the dew, and those same sweet flowers at noon with their heads bowed in anguish before the mighty sun." The bride for whom the gold has not yet worn away, who gathers pearls without knowing what lies at their core, cannot fathom the value of the unmarried woman's life. That remains to be discovered--too late--by the wife. Her wilted noon is hardly the happiness associated with Dickinson's first mention of union. Rather, that bond belongs to another relationship, one that clearly she broached with Gilbert. Defined by an illuminating aim, it is particular to its holder, yet shared deeply with another. Dickinson represents her own position, and in turn asks Gilbert whether such a perspective is not also hers: "I have always hoped to know if you had no dear fancy, illumining all your life, no one of whom you murmured in the faithful ear of night--and at whose side in fancy, you walked the livelong day." Dickinson's "dear fancy" of becoming poet would indeed illumine her life. What remained less dependable was Gilbert's accompaniment.

That Susan Dickinson would not join Dickinson in the "walk" became increasingly clear as she turned her attention to the social duties befitting the wife of a rising lawyer. Between hosting distinguished visitors (Emerson among them), presiding over various dinners, and mothering three children, Susan Dickinson's "dear fancy" was far from Dickinson's. As Dickinson had predicted, their paths diverged, but the letters and poems continued. The letters grow more cryptic, aphorism defining the distance between them. Dickinson began to divide her attention between Susan Dickinson and Susan's children. In the last decade of Dickinson's life, she apparently facilitated the extramarital affair between her brother and Mabel Loomis Todd. Regardless of outward behavior, however, Susan Dickinson remained a center to Dickinson's circumference. In her 1854 letter Dickinson had envisioned herself as a solitary singer, a departing bird who nonetheless returns with "melody new." In a palindromic sentence, Dickinson divides the two fellow travelers, yet plays the ambiguity into a decisive singularity: "Perhaps this is the point at which our paths diverge--then pass on singing Sue, and up the distant hill I journey on." At first reading, each part of the sentence describes a different person. Sue passes on, singing, while Dickinson journeys up the distant hill. At second glance, the entire phrase may well belong to Dickinson. She travels up that hill, the poet whose subject is sharply defined.

As the relationship with Susan Dickinson wavered, other aspects in Dickinson's life were just coming to the fore. The 1850s marked a shift in her friendships. As her school friends married, she sought new companions. Defined by the written word, they divided between the known correspondent and the admired author. No new source of companionship for Dickinson, her books were primary voices behind her own writing. Regardless of the reading endorsed by the master in the academy or the father in the house, Dickinson read widely among the contemporary authors on both sides of the Atlantic. Among the British were the Romantic poets, the Brontë sisters, the Brownings, and George Eliot. On the American side was the unlikely company of Longfellow, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emerson. With a knowledge-bound sentence that suggested she knew more than she revealed, she claimed not to have read Whitman. She read Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, and Matthew Arnold. Her contemporaries gave Dickinson a kind of currency for her own writing, but commanding equal ground were the Bible and Shakespeare. While the authors were here defined by their inaccessibility, the allusions in Dickinson's letters and poems suggest just how vividly she imagined her words in conversation with others.

Included in these epistolary conversations were her actual correspondents. Their number was growing. In two cases, the individuals were editors; later generations have wondered whether Dickinson saw Samuel Bowles and Josiah Holland as men who were likely to help her poetry into print. Bowles was chief editor of the Springfield Republican; Holland joined him in those duties in 1850. With both men Dickinson forwarded a lively correspondence. To each she sent many poems, and seven of those poems were printed in the paper-- "Sic transit gloria mundi," "Nobody knows this little rose," "I Taste a liquor never brewed," "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers," "Flowers--Well--if anybody," "Blazing in gold and quenching in purple," and "A narrow fellow in the grass." The language in Dickinson's letters to Bowles is similar to the passionate language of her letters to Susan Gilbert Dickinson. She readily declared her love to him; yet, as readily declared that love to his wife, Mary. In each she hoped to find an answering spirit, and from each she settled on different conclusions. Josiah Holland never elicited declarations of love. When she wrote to him, she wrote primarily to his wife. In contrast to the friends who married, Mary Holland became a sister she did not have to forfeit.

These friendships were in their early moments in 1853 when Edward Dickinson took up residence in Washington as he entered what he hoped would be the first of many terms in Congress. With their father's absence, Vinnie and Emily Dickinson spent more time visiting--staying with the Hollands in Springfield or heading to Washington. In 1855 after one such visit, the sisters stopped in Philadelphia on their return to Amherst. Staying with their Amherst friend Eliza Coleman, they likely attended church with her. The minister in the pulpit was Charles Wadsworth, renowned for his preaching and pastoral care. Dickinson found herself interested in both. She eventually deemed Wadsworth one of her "Masters." No letters from Dickinson to Wadsworth are extant, and yet the correspondence with Mary Holland indicates that Holland forwarded many letters from Dickinson to Wadsworth. The content of those letters is unknown. That Dickinson felt the need to send them under the covering hand of Holland suggests an intimacy critics have long puzzled over. As with Susan Dickinson, the question of relationship seems finally irreducible to familiar terms. While many have assumed a "love affair"--and in certain cases, assumption extends to a consummation in more than words--there is little evidence to support a sensationalized version. The only surviving letter written by Wadsworth to Dickinson dates from 1862. It speaks of the pastor's concern for one of his flock: "I am distressed beyond measure at your note, received this moment,--I can only imagine the affliction which has befallen, or is now befalling you. Believe me, be what it may, you have all my sympathy, and my constant, earnest prayers." Whether her letter to him has in fact survived is not clear. There are three letters addressed to an unnamed "Master," but they are silent on the question of whether or not the letters were sent and if so, to whom. The second letter in particular speaks of "affliction" through sharply expressed pain. This language may have prompted Wadsworth's response, but there is no conclusive evidence.

Edward Dickinson did not win reelection and thus turned his attention to his Amherst residence after his defeat in November 1855. At this time Edward's law partnership with his son became a daily reality. He also returned his family to the Homestead. Emily Dickinson had been born in that house; the Dickinsons had resided there for the first ten years of her life. She had also spent time at the Homestead with her cousin John Graves and with Susan Dickinson during Edward Dickinson's term in Washington. It became the center of Dickinson's daily world from which she sent her mind "out upon Circumference," writing hundreds of poems and letters in the rooms she had known for most of her life. It was not, however, a solitary house but increasingly became defined by its proximity to the house next door. Austin Dickinson and Susan Gilbert married in July 1856. They settled in the Evergreens, the house newly built down the path from the Homestead.

For Dickinson, the next years were both powerful and difficult. Her letters reflect the centrality of friendship in her life. As she commented to Bowles in 1858, "My friends are my 'estate.' Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them." By this time in her life, there were significant losses to that "estate" through death--her first "Master," Leonard Humphrey, in 1850; the second, Benjamin Newton, in 1853. There were also the losses through marriage and the mirror of loss, departure from Amherst. Whether comforting Mary Bowles on a stillbirth, remembering the death of a friend's wife, or consoling her cousins Frances and Louise Norcross after their mother's death, her words sought to accomplish the impossible. "Split lives--never 'get well,'" she commented; yet, in her letters she wrote into that divide, offering images to hold these lives together. Her approach forged a particular kind of connection. In these years, she turned increasingly to the cryptic style that came to define her writing. The letters are rich in aphorism and dense with allusion. She asks her reader to complete the connection her words only imply--to round out the context from which the allusion is taken, to take the part and imagine a whole. Through her letters, Dickinson reminds her correspondents that their broken worlds are not a mere chaos of fragments. Behind the seeming fragments of her short statements lies the invitation to remember the world in which each correspondent shares a certain and rich knowledge with the other. They alone know the extent of their connections; the friendship has given them the experiences peculiar to the relation.

At the same time that Dickinson was celebrating friendship, she was also limiting the amount of daily time she spent with other people. By 1858, when she solicited a visit from her cousin Louise Norcross, Dickinson reminded Norcross that she was "one of the ones from whom I do not run away." Much, and in all likelihood too much, has been made of Dickinson's decision to restrict her visits with other people. She has been termed "recluse" and "hermit." Both terms sensationalize a decision that has come to be seen as eminently practical. As Dickinson's experience taught her, household duties were anathema to other activities. The visiting alone was so time-consuming as to be prohibitive in itself. As she turned her attention to writing, she gradually eased out of the countless rounds of social calls. Sometime in 1858 she began organizing her poems into distinct groupings. These "fascicles," as Mabel Loomis Todd, Dickinson's first editor, termed them, comprised fair copies of the poems, several written on a page, the pages sewn together. By 1860 Dickinson had written more than 150 poems. At the same time, she pursued an active correspondence with many individuals. For Dickinson, letter writing was "visiting" at its best. It was focused and uninterrupted. Other callers would not intrude. It winnowed out "polite conversation." The correspondents could speak their minds outside the formulas of parlor conversation. Foremost, it meant an active engagement in the art of writing. If Dickinson began her letters as a kind of literary apprenticeship, using them to hone her skills of expression, she turned practice into performance. The genre offered ample opportunity for the play of meaning.

By the late 1850s the poems as well as the letters begin to speak with their own distinct voice. They shift from the early lush language of the 1850s valentines to their signature economy of expression. The poems dated to 1858 already carry the familiar metric pattern of the hymn. The alternating four-beat/three-beat lines are marked by a brevity in turn reinforced by Dickinson's syntax. Her poems followed both the cadence and the rhythm of the hymn form she adopted. This form was fertile ground for her poetic exploration. Through its faithful predictability, she could play content off against form. While certain lines accord with their place in the hymn--either leading the reader to the next line or drawing a thought to its conclusion-- the poems are as likely to upend the structure so that the expected moment of cadence includes the words that speak the greatest ambiguity. In the following poem, the hymn meter is respected until the last line. A poem built from biblical quotations, it undermines their certainty through both rhythm and image. In the first stanza Dickinson breaks lines one and three with her asides to the implied listener. The poem is figured as a conversation about who enters Heaven. It begins with biblical references, then uses the story of the rich man's difficulty as the governing image for the rest of the poem. Unlike Christ's counsel to the young man, however, Dickinson's images turn decidedly secular. She places the reader in a world of commodity with its brokers and discounts, its dividends and costs. The neat financial transaction ends on a note of incompleteness created by rhythm, sound, and definition. The final line is truncated to a single iamb, the final word ends with an open double s sound, and the word itself describes uncertainty:

You're right--"the way is narrow"--And "difficult the Gate"--And "few there be"--Correct again--That "enter in--thereat"--

'Tis Costly--so are purples!'Tis just the price of Breath--With but the "Discount" of the Grave--Termed by the Brokers--"Death"!

And after that--there's Heaven--The Good man's--"Dividend"--And Bad men--"go to Jail"--I guess--

The late 1850s marked the beginning of Dickinson's greatest poetic period. By 1865 she had written nearly 1,100 poems. Bounded on one side by Austin and Susan Dickinson's marriage and on the other by severe difficulty with her eyesight, the years between held an explosion of expression in both poems and letters. Her own stated ambitions are cryptic and contradictory. Later critics have read the epistolary comments about her own "wickedness" as a tacit acknowledgment of her poetic ambition. In contrast to joining the church, she joined the ranks of the writers, a potentially suspect group. Distrust, however, extended only to certain types. If Dickinson associated herself with the Wattses and the Cowpers, she occupied respected literary ground; if she aspired toward Pope or Shakespeare, she crossed into the ranks of the "libertine." Dickinson's poems themselves suggest she made no such distinctions--she blended the form of Watts with the content of Shakespeare. She described personae of her poems as disobedient children and youthful "debauchees."

The place she envisioned for her writing is far from clear. Did she pursue the friendships with Bowles and Holland in the hope that these editors would help her poetry into print? Did she identify her poems as apt candidates for inclusion in the "Portfolio" pages of newspapers, or did she always imagine a different kind of circulation for her writing? Dickinson apologized for the public appearance of her poem "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," claiming that it had been stolen from her, but her own complicity in such theft remains unknown. Her April 1862 letter to the well-known literary figure Thomas Wentworth Higginson certainly suggests a particular answer. Written as a response to his Atlantic Monthly article "Letter to a Young Contributor" --the lead article in the April issue--her intention seems unmistakable. She sent him four poems, one of which she had worked over several times. With this gesture she placed herself in the ranks of "young contributor," offering him a sample of her work, hoping for its acceptance. Her accompanying letter, however, does not speak the language of publication. It decidedly asks for his estimate; yet, at the same time it couches the request in terms far different from the vocabulary of the literary marketplace:

Mr. Higginson,
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?

The Mind is so near itself--it cannot see, distinctly--and I have none to ask--

Should you think it breathed--and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude--

If I make the mistake--that you dared to tell me--would give me sincerer honor--toward you--

I enclose my name--asking you, if you please--Sir--to tell me what is true?

That you will not betray me--it is needless to ask--since Honor is it's own pawn--

Higginson's response is not extant. It can only be gleaned from Dickinson's subsequent letters. In them she makes clear that Higginson's response was far from an enthusiastic endorsement. She speaks of the "surgery" he performed; she asks him if the subsequent poems that she has sent are "more orderly."

Higginson himself was intrigued but not impressed. His first recorded comments about Dickinson's poetry are dismissive. In a letter to Atlantic Monthly editor James T. Fields, Higginson complained about the response to his article: "I foresee that 'Young Contributors' will send me worse things than ever now. Two such specimens of verse as came yesterday & day before--fortunately not to be forwarded for publication!" He had received Dickinson's poems the day before he wrote this letter. While Dickinson's letters clearly piqued his curiosity, he did not readily envision a published poet emerging from this poetry, which he found poorly structured. As is made clear by one of Dickinson's responses, he counseled her to work longer and harder on her poetry before she attempted its publication. Her reply, in turn, piques the later reader's curiosity. She wrote, "I smile when you suggest that I delay 'to publish'--that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin." What lay behind this comment? The brave cover of profound disappointment? The accurate rendering of her own ambition? Sometime in 1863 she wrote her often-quoted poem about publication with its disparaging remarks about reducing expression to a market value. At a time when slave auctions were palpably rendered for a Northern audience, she offered another example of the corrupting force of the merchant's world. The poem begins, "Publication--is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man" and ends by returning its reader to the image of the opening: "But reduce no Human Spirit / To Disgrace of Price--."

While Dickinson spoke strongly against publication once Higginson had suggested its inadvisability, her earlier remarks tell a different story. In the same letter to Higginson in which she eschews publication, she also asserts her identity as a poet. "My dying Tutor told me that he would like to live till I had been a poet." In all likelihood the tutor is Ben Newton, the lawyer who had given her Emerson's Poems. His death in 1853 suggests how early Dickinson was beginning to think of herself as a poet, but unexplained is Dickinson's view on the relationship between being a poet and being published. When she was working over her poem "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers," one of the poems included with the first letter to Higginson, she suggested that the distance between firmament and fin was not as far as it first appeared. As she reworked the second stanza again, and yet again, she indicated a future that did not preclude publication. She wrote to Sue, "Could I make you and Austin--proud--sometime--a great way off--'twould give me taller feet." Written sometime in 1861, the letter predates her exchange with Higginson. Again, the frame of reference is omitted. One can only conjecture what circumstance would lead to Austin and Susan Dickinson's pride. That such pride is in direct relation to Dickinson's poetry is unquestioned; that it means publication is not. Given her penchant for double meanings, her anticipation of "taller feet" might well signal a change of poetic form. Her ambition lay in moving from brevity to expanse, but this movement again is the later reader's speculation. The only evidence is the few poems published in the 1850s and 1860s and a single poem published in the 1870s.

This minimal publication, however, was not a retreat to a completely private expression. Her poems circulated widely among her friends, and this audience was part and parcel of women's literary culture in the nineteenth century. She sent poems to nearly all her correspondents; they in turn may well have read those poems with their friends. Dickinson's poems were rarely restricted to her eyes alone. She continued to collect her poems into distinct packets. The practice has been seen as her own trope on domestic work: she sewed the pages together. Poetry was by no means foreign to women's daily tasks--mending, sewing, stitching together the material to clothe the person. Unremarked, however, is its other kinship. Her work was also the minister's. Preachers stitched together the pages of their sermons, a task they apparently undertook themselves.

Dickinson's comments on herself as poet invariably implied a widespread audience. As she commented to Higginson in 1862, "My Business is Circumference." She adapted that phrase to two other endings, both of which reinforced the expansiveness she envisioned for her work. To the Hollands she wrote, "My business is to love. . . . My Business is to Sing." In all versions of that phrase, the guiding image evokes boundlessness. In song the sound of the voice extends across space, and the ear cannot accurately measure its dissipating tones. Love is idealized as a condition without end. Even the "circumference"--the image that Dickinson returned to many times in her poetry--is a boundary that suggests boundlessness. As Emerson's essay "Circles" may well have taught Dickinson, another circle can always be drawn around any circumference. When, in Dickinson's terms, individuals go "out upon Circumference," they stand on the edge of an unbounded space. Dickinson's use of the image refers directly to the project central to her poetic work. It appears in the structure of her declaration to Higginson; it is integral to the structure and subjects of the poems themselves. The key rests in the small word is. In her poetry Dickinson set herself the double-edged task of definition. Her poems frequently identify themselves as definitions: "'Hope' is the thing with feathers," "Renunciation--is a piercing Virtue," "Remorse--is Memory--awake," or "Eden is that old fashioned House." As these examples illustrate, Dickinsonian definition is inseparable from metaphor. The statement that says "is" is invariably the statement that articulates a comparison. "We see--Comparatively," Dickinson wrote, and her poems demonstrate that assertion. In the world of her poetry, definition proceeds via comparison. One cannot say directly what is; essence remains unnamed and unnameable. In its place the poet articulates connections created out of correspondence. In some cases the abstract noun is matched with a concrete object--hope figures as a bird, its appearances and disappearances signaled by the defining element of flight. In other cases, one abstract concept is connected with another, remorse described as wakeful memory; renunciation, as the "piercing virtue."

Comparison becomes a reciprocal process. Dickinson's metaphors observe no firm distinction between tenor and vehicle. Defining one concept in terms of another produces a new layer of meaning in which both terms are changed. Neither hope nor birds are seen in the same way by the end of Dickinson's poem. Dickinson frequently builds her poems around this trope of change. Her vocabulary circles around transformation, often ending before change is completed. The final lines of her poems might well be defined by their inconclusiveness: the "I guess" of "You're right-'the way is narrow'"; a direct statement of slippage--"and then--it doesn't stay"--in "I prayed, at first, a little Girl." Dickinson's endings are frequently open. In this world of comparison, extremes are powerful. There are many negative definitions and sharp contrasts. While the emphasis on the outer limits of emotion may well be the most familiar form of the Dickinsonian extreme, it is not the only one. Dickinson's use of synecdoche is yet another version. The part that is taken for the whole functions by way of contrast. The specific detail speaks for the thing itself, but in its speaking, it reminds the reader of the difference between the minute particular and what it represents.

Opposition frames the system of meaning in Dickinson's poetry: the reader knows what is, by what is not. In an early poem, "There's a certain Slant of light," Dickinson located meaning in a geography of "internal difference." The following poem demonstrates precisely the lay of this land:

It was not Death, for I stood up,And all the Dead, lie down--It was not Night, for all the BellsPut out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my FleshI felt Siroccos--crawl--Nor Fire--for just my marble feetCould keep a Chancel, cool--

And yet, it tasted, like them all,The Figures I have seenSet orderly, for Burial,Reminded me, of mine--

As if my life were shaven,And fitted to a frame,And could not breathe without a key,And 'twas like Midnight, some--

When everything that ticked--has stopped--And space stares all around--Or Grisly frosts--first Autumn morns,Repeal the Beating Ground--

But, most, like Chaos--Stopless--cool--Without a Chance, or Spar--Or even a Report of Land--To justify--Despair.

Jeez-Loiuse that is probably enough about "me" for this lovely day on FFTL. A girl has to have her secrets.


7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Danke für die richtige Rechtschreibung des Namens der Schützpatronin der Musik.
I did misspell her name as "Cecelia", not as "Celcelia" as you misquoted me above. Of course, her correct name is St. Cecilia.
Danke, wieder, Butch, und Tschüß

-- Anonomann

P.S. As a Socialist who thusly doesn't believe in saints, I'll admit to not being "up" on them or their spelling.

2:09 AM  
Blogger Lane Savant said...

Meredith's Vespa is named Cecilia.
Pronounced Che-chelia, as in Bartoli

7:46 AM  

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